Rainer Assails Abramovic Over Planned MOCA Gala-as-Artwork

rainer e1321035002239 Rainer Assails Abramovic Over Planned MOCA Gala as Artwork

Yvonne Rainer.

Choreographer Yvonne Rainer has written a letter to Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles director Jeffrey Deitch, slamming his museum’s Marina Abramovic-organized gala, which is scheduled to occur tomorrow evening, as a “grotesque spectacle promises to be truly embarrassing.” The letter, which critic Claudia La Rocco has published in full on her blog, is co-signed by choreographer Taisha Paggett and art historian Douglas Crimp.

Update: 2 p.m.: The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Ms. Rainer said last night that she had not decided whether to send the letter, so it is not clear if the circulating letter is a final draft. Ms. Rainer has not been available for comment.

What could be so unpleasant about Ms. Abramovic’s gala-as-artwork, you ask? An artist who claimed to have attended an audition for the performance-party wrote a letter to Ms. Rainer, also available on Ms. La Rocco’s blog, providing some details. She writes of the planned works:

“… artists/dancers she will hire will spend 3(!) hours under the dining tables of the donor gala with their heads protruding from the tables. They will be sitting on lazy susans under the table and slowly rotating and making eye contact with the donors/diners. Of course we were warned that we will not be able to leave to pee, etc. That the diners may try to feed us, give us drinks, fondle us under the table, etc but will be warned not to. Whatever happens, we are to remain in performance mode and unaffected. … There is another audition for another role where the performers lie naked on tables with fake skeletons on them.”

In her letter to Mr. Deitch, Ms. Rainer compares these scenes to those in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s rather gruesome film Salo (1975), in which a number of young men and women are subjected to a variety of humiliating, painful experiences by fascist officials, though she emphasized that the film had an anti-fascist message.

As Gallerist noted last month, performers will be paid $150 and given a one-year membership to MOCA for their labor. While Ms. Rainer acknowledges the potential performers are willing participants, she adds:

“Their desperate voluntarism says something about the generally exploitative conditions of the art world such that people are willing to become decorative table ornaments installed by a celebrity artist in the hopes of somehow breaking into the show biz themselves. And at sub-minimal wages for the performers, the event is economic exploitation as well, verging on criminality.”

Ms. Abramovic responded on Artinfo, stating:

“I hope the performance itself will bring some kind of dignity, serenity, and concentration to the normal situation of a gala, and actually change the energy of the space. … “All these accusations, you can’t have them before you actually experience the situation and see how I can change the atmosphere, that’s my main purpose.”

Gallerist has contacted MOCA for comment, and will update this article as soon as we hear of developments.


  1. CJC says:

    Abromovic’s art has been seriously compromised by her obsession with celebrity, luxury, elitism, fashion, and, let’s face it, money. Her recent activities in the art world are disappointing and this planned “gala-as-artwork” sounds like it will be more of the same. Abramovic and MOCA should at the very least be paying the participating dancers better wages.
    – CJC

  2. StevenKaplan says:

    Rainer is right. What this incident foregrounds is the status of exploitative spectacle that has lately accompanied the unsavory paradigm of “the artist is present”. It is bread and circuses for the prurient appetites of the art plutocracy, and one more example of the Deitch/Biesenbach “macht show” disease. The image of a performer’s head protruding through a hole in the table, for the delectation of the uber art patrons, recalls the callous cruelty, in certain cuisines, of eating fresh monkey brains, spooned out of the skull while the monkey is still alive and pinioned at the center of the table. It’s like a purple-assed baboon, Dr. Benway, William Burroughs nightmare.

    The problem is not just Marina Abramovic. Rather it is efforts towards re-staging performance that ambitious curators, anxious to advance their careers, have grafted onto her original work, to make sure it continues once she is gone. The idea of substituting new, younger performers is what leads to the appearance of inequities and the charge of abuse of privilege. When Abramovic herself was the performer, willingly suffering the slings and arrows for the sake of her art, the worst charge that could be leveled was masochism. But when other bodies – powerless, anonymous, used for the delectation of the powerful – are drafted for the sake of aggrandizing the arts institution and the plutocrats, there is obvious exploitation.

    I believe Abramovic was urged to become an impresario of her work, rather than merely its performer, by curator/enablers who hope to piggyback on her art stardom. By herself, she might have come up with the idea of substituting other bodies for her own, but it reaches an apotheosis through the institutional imperative of creating a continuing niche for performance art on the museum level. The sacrificial mode, of drafting others to recapitulate an original action, is akin to the institutionalization of religion, from a direct encounter with an original charismatic leader to the rituals and protocols of a Church, from Jesus to Paul.

  3. StevenKaplan says:

    After attending a rehearsal for the Abramovic helmed performance piece for the annual LACMA gala, Yvonne Rainer produced a longer, revised version of her letter to Jeffrey Deitch — with a long list of co-signers.

    Yvonne Rainer
    Douglas Crimp
    Tom Knechtel
    Monica Majoli
    Liz Kotz
    Michael Duncan
    Matias Viegener
    Judie Bamber
    Kimberli Meyer
    Kathrin Burmester
    Nizan Shaked
    Alexandro Segade
    David Burns
    A.L. Steiner
    Simon Leung
    Moyra Davey
    Taisha Paggett
    Susan Silton
    Silvia Kolbowski
    Susan Mogul
    Julian Hoeber
    Catherine Lord
    Zoe Beloff
    Lincoln Tobier
    Millie Wilson
    Mary Kelly
    Charles Gaines
    Amy Sadao
    Gregg Bordowitz
    Andrea Geyer
    Lucas Michael
    Liz Deschenes
    Ulrike Muller
    Nancy Popp
    Su Freidrich
    Dean Daderko
    Litia Perta
    Ginger Brooks Takahashi
    Stefan Kalmar
    bell hooks
    Julie Ault
    Zoe Leonard
    Molly Corey
    Sharon Horvath
    Rachel Harrison
    John Zurier
    Day Gleeson
    Thomas Miccelli
    John Yau
    Ernest Larsen


  4. […] 24 hours before her directorial debut of  “An Artist’s Life Manifesto,” the MOCA gala piece, she was lambasted by legendary dancer Yvonne Rainer for what Ms. Rainer called  ‘grotesque’ and ‘verging on economic exploitation’ for Ms. […]

  5. […] Rainer Assails Abramovic Over Planned MOCA Gala-as-Artwork …Nov 11, 2011 … Yvonne Rainer Douglas Crimp Tom Knechtel Monica Majoli Liz Kotz Michael Duncan Matias Viegener Judie Bamber Kimberli Meyer … […]